Obituary Note: David Rhodes

David Rhodes

David Rhodes, author of six novels, all published or republished by Milkweed Editions, died November 10 following complications from surgery for cancer. He was 75.

Rhodes's first three novels--The Last Fair Deal Going Down, The Easter House, and Rock Island Line--were published in the 1970s. Although he continued to write, he wasn't published again for another three decades, not until after Milkweed editor Ben Barnhart discovered the three books and contacted Rhodes. Then, in 2008, Milkweed published Driftless. As recalled by Milkweed publisher and CEO Daniel Slager, "Titled after the region of southwestern Wisconsin in which the novel is set, Driftless represents characters who are as unglaciated as the place they live in. David's characters are radiant and deep, eccentric and soulful, driven by desires that are as mysterious as they are commanding. Driftless became a national sensation when it was published in 2008, and it was thrilling to be part of an American master novelist's return to a robust readership.

"Jewelweed followed in 2014. Rich with his distinctive sense of empathy and wonder, David's fifth novel expanded his capacious vision, in which the seemingly mundane becomes magical. Not long after, David approached me with a concept and a plan to develop the novel that would become Painting Beyond Walls, his sixth novel, which we published this fall. Engaging with contemporary genetics, philosophy, and history, Painting Beyond Walls is perhaps David's most ambitious novel. It explores what makes us human, what could make us better, and how and why it is important for us to come together in community." (See our September 23 Shelf Awareness for Readers interview with Rhodes here.)

Slager called Rhodes "a beautiful human being. He was voraciously curious yet refreshingly humble, wonderfully funny, keenly perceptive, and perhaps above all, deeply caring. David's was an essentially generous spirit, and one invariably left an exchange with him feeling enriched."

His wife, Edna Rhodes, said, "He was kind and open, with a lively mind and quick wit. He delighted in thought-provoking discussions on any subject imaginable with anyone who was willing. He read widely. Books, philosophy, nature, wildlife, bees, and dogs gave him great joy. When you engaged with him you felt free from anonymity, rooted in community."

Rhodes won many awards for his books, including the Milkweed National Fiction Prize (2008); the UW-Whitewater Chancellor's Regional Literary Award (2009); the Guggenheim Fellowship for Creative Arts (2010); and the Wisconsin Notable Author Award (2018). Driftless was named a Best Book of the Year by the Christian Science Monitor and California Literary Review and called "the best work of fiction to come out of the Midwest in many years" by Alan Cheuse at the Chicago Tribune. Jewelweed was a runner-up for the All Iowa Reads program in 2015.

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